Pennsylvania

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As Shell Works To Stop Methane, Neighboring Farmer Worries About His Cows

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shell flares off natural gas, in an effort to stop a methane migration problem in Tioga County

If you go looking for evidence of Shell’s methane migration problem in Tioga County, as StateImpact did today, you won’t be able to see the 30 foot geyser of water and natural gas.

First, the flow has been reduced to a few feet over the course of the last week.

Second, the company has blocked off access to the site.

What you can see, though, are the large, loud flares burning off gas at nearby pads. They’re part of an effort to reduce underground pressure and bring methane leaks under control. “We’re seeing that brings down — it depressurizes — the gas that could be contributing to migration in the immediate area,” said Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh.

(For more background on what’s happening in Tioga County, click here. For an interactive map of drilling sites in Tioga County, click here.)

For farmer Leo Shanlay, who lives a bit more than a mile from where the problems are occurring, evidence that something might be amiss came from his cows. Shanlay’s nine calves won’t drink any water from his drinking well. “Before, when I dumped water in, they drank it right away. Now they wait four or five hours before they drink it,” he said, standing in front of an idling tractor. The calves started losing interest in his well water on Tuesday. They’re happy to drink the water his uncle trucks in from another site, though.

Op de Weegh said Shell has taken water samples from Shanlay’s well. Initial results don’t show any methane. Shell expects more detailed analysis by Monday.

Shanlay lives just outside a voluntary evacuation zone. Shell has requested peo­ple who live within about a mile of the sus­pected well pad to evac­u­ate their homes. Shell and Tioga County officials say fewer than five people live in that area.

The depressurization efforts appear to be working. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Daniel Spadoni wrote in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania that methane sightings have dropped to the point where the people who hunt on nearby private land are being allowed to return to their cabins.

Spadoni said DEP still doesn’t know what’s causing the methane leaks, though as StateImpact Pennsylvania reported earlier today, Shell and Tioga County officials suspect a decades-old abandoned gas well played a role in the problems.

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